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Jonathan Woolf
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Ernest FARRAR (1885-1918)
Heroic Elegy, Op. 36 (1918) [7:09]
Frank BRIDGE (1879-1949)
Lament for String Orchestra (1915) [5:04]
Jean CRAS (1879-1932)
Âmes d’Enfants (1917-18) [16:47]
Frederick Septimus KELLY (1881-1916)
Elegy for String Orchestra (1915) [8:36]
Jacques de La PRESLE (1888-1969)
Soir de Bataille (c.1915-18) [11:48]
Orchestre Symphonique de l'Opéra de Toulon/Pierre Dumoussaud
rec. 2018, Casino de la Seyne-sur-Mer, Var, France
Les Musiciens et la Grande Guerre - Volume 34
HORTUS 734 [49:30]

This is now the 34th volume in a rather remarkable series that documents music composed in or ‘about’ the First World War. This volume is devoted to an Anglo-French orchestral repertoire that has slowly emerged on disc in recent years, with the exception of a world première recording of Jacques de la Presle’s Soir de Bataille.
Soir de Bataille was conceived as a symphonic poem or, a touch more grandiloquently, a ‘symphonic tableau’, during the years 1915-18. It was also intended to be incorporated into a grand concerto for piano and orchestra, a work with ‘the horror of war for a basis’, in the composer’s words, and with the second part choral. But Jacques de la Presle, who was a stretcher-bearer, had been gassed in battle, and after the war he studied for the Prix de Rome competition and the work was to lie forgotten in the family archives for nearly a century. Its completion is owed to Samuel Campet, who carried out the orchestration. Though it doesn’t quite stretch to twelve minutes in this authoritative-sounding performance it’s clear that the wind-laced processional march is well moulded and that the graded climax, which is exceptionally grand, is both well prepared and undeniably effective.

His compatriot Jean Cras, by contrast, has been increasingly well-served by recordings over the last couple of decades. Âmes d’Enfants (1917-18) was originally written for piano six-hands, then revised for four hands, and finally orchestrated. The fact that the six hands were those of his three little daughters should alert one to the light-hearted nature of the triptych; the first section refined and pure, and the final one saturated in Debussy’s influence, colourfully orchestrated and making a lovely effect in this guise

Ernest Farrar’s Heroic Elegy has been recorded by Alasdair Mitchell and the Philharmonia in their ground-breaking all-Farrar disc for Chandos in 1996. Pierre Dumoussaud feels it rather more urgently than did Mitchell and he draws out a vivid Agincourt Hymn and gives rein to the percussion, through the Symphony Orchestra of Toulon Opera can’t match the Philharmonia’s sonic weight. FS Kelly’s Elegy for Strings is another piece that has been the subject of recordings and broadcasts in more recent years. This comes into direct competition with David Lloyd-Jones’ Dutton reading with the BBC Symphony. Both conductors take a similar approach to tempo (Lloyd-Jones is a shade quicker) and the rarefied beauty of the music – its consort-ecclesiastical beauties – emerge resonantly in whichever performance you choose. Dumoussaud doesn’t downplay the work’s modality or VW inflections and he fashions a most sensitive reading – though again it’s the string depth that’s somewhat shy here; the BBC basses are that much more resonant. Frank Bridge becomes a Franco-Belgian in Hortus’ running order – he is rendered as ‘Franck Bridge’ – and his brief, touching Lament of 1915, recorded several times, is poetically accomplished in this version.

Volume 25 in this series also includes a recording of the Kelly, though in chamber reduction (see review).

This is an exploratory and brave series and it deserves admiration and support for its vision and clarity of purpose. Even though the centenary of the end of the war is behind us, I hope there will be many more Hortus volumes to come.

Jonathan Woolf

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